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Reporters Discuss Obama's Tucson Memorial Speech

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 13, 2011

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to our public-media colleagues for more reaction to last night's memorial and the president's speech.

Dick Pryor has anchored the nightly Oklahoma News Report for 20 years on OETA. He covered the 1995 bombing, and he joins us from Oklahoma City. Julie Philipp is news director of WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and host of Need to Know Rochester. Jose Luis Jimenez is with us from KPBS-San Diego. He is the social-media editor for Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, a consortium of seven Southwestern radio stations. And Karen Kasler is capital bureau chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television.

We want to thank you, all four, for talking with us.

And, Dick Pryor, I'm going to start with you.

What are people in your viewing area around Oklahoma City saying about what the president had to say last night?

DICK PRYOR, OETA-TV: I think people here were very impressed by what President Obama said.

Obviously, they were listening first and foremost to hear how he compared to what President Clinton said in 1995 following the Oklahoma City bombing. The speech was different. The atmosphere was different. It was a lot longer. President Clinton spoke for nine minutes.

And the atmosphere in the arena was different than it was in Oklahoma City. It was much more solemn here. But I believe that the president did all of the things that he needed to do. And that's what people were looking for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was interesting that the crowd at times broke out into applause and cheers, almost -- there was almost a sense of relief about that.

Julie Philipp, what about in western New York? What -- what are you picking up there?

JULIE PHILIPP, WXXI-TV: Really, it is a very general positive reaction to his speech.

I think New Yorkers, Rochester, people here in general have the sense that they want their elected officials to act more like grownups. And when he first came up to the podium, and you could hear what seemed to be the students screaming and whistling and interrupting him, he very gently turned that around and calmed things down, and was very solemn, and reminded people what the occasion was all about.

And he acted in a very adult manner and in a very civil way. And I think that went over very well here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on the other side of the country, Jose Luis Jimenez in San Diego, you're so close to -- to Tucson, or closer than our other guests tonight. What do you think people where you are expected, and what was the reaction?

JOSE LUIS JIMENEZ, KPBS-TV: Well, and yesterday we turned to our social media platforms, and we asked people what they wanted to hear from the speech. And the first thing they said is that they wanted politics set aside.

They also said that they felt wounded, and they wanted to hear words of wisdom that they wanted to heal. Today, turning back to our social media platforms, people are basically saying that he hit the mark, that -- they're using words like hope and unity to describe the speech, and they like the fact that he focused more on the survivors and the victims of the tragedy, as opposed to some of the other elements of it.

And that's also being reflected in the larger social-media sphere. You see today a lot of people posting direct quotes from the speech on social media platforms, which seems to indicate that it did resonate with some people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jose Jimenez, staying with you for a moment, what are some of the quotes people are posting?

JOSE LUIS JIMENEZ: A lot of people are taking the inspirational quotes, basically, when Obama used the child, the 9-year-old, as an example, to use her memory to go forward, to build an America that she would be proud of in the future. That seems to be one of the main quotes that you're seeing a lot on -- being posted on social-media platforms, and also the call to civility, to continue talking about the issues, but to put the discourse in a much more civil manner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karen Kasler, to you in Columbus, Ohio, what are you picking up?

KAREN KASLER, capitol bureau chief, Ohio Public Radio: Well, here in Ohio, we're no strangers to big events being held in arenas and that sort of things. I mean, we have The Ohio State University here in Columbus.

And so the pep-rally atmosphere in a way wasn't a surprise to, I think, a lot of people in Ohio. And, once again I think you had kind of a split amongst people who like President Obama, they liked his speech. People who don't like him don't like his speech.

And if you read Facebook and social media and Twitter, and then you also listened to talk radio here in Ohio, you heard that split, you heard that very obvious difference between people who thought he had a wonderful speech, a lot of calls for unity and civility and a really soothing, healing kind of speech, others saying that it was divisive for him to have spoken at this event, that they felt like this was a political opportunity for him -- so, a bit of a split decision here.

Ohio is a solidly Republican state now, so, in a way, that's not too surprising.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dick Pryor, back to you in Oklahoma. Were you picking up that split? Is that what you're sensing there, too?

DICK PRYOR: Absolutely. But I think only the harshest critics would have criticized President Obama's speech here in Oklahoma.

I think the people here were looking for those things that were comforting to the victims. We know what that feels like in Oklahoma. He needed to reach out to the families and comfort them, to honor the victims, to applaud the heroes, and also to validate the community and let everybody know in the community that the entire nation shared in their grief.

President Clinton did that very effectively. President Obama did it as well in very human terms. His connection when he was talking about the victims, I think, was very powerful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Julie Philipp in Rochester, N.Y., when the president talked about a need for civil discourse, for civility, for a country as good as little Christina Green would have imagined, is there a sense that that's realistic?

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